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An OUPD vehicle is parked outside of Scott Quad. (JOSHUA LIM | FILE)

Finding protection sometimes difficult for victims of relationship abuse

For some victims of relationship abuse, finding protection is not as easy as contacting law enforcement or reporting the abuse to the university.

The Social Experiences and Safety Survey, released Nov. 8, indicated about 270 people out of about 1,350 people at Ohio University who completed the survey reported experiencing dating violence, which the university's code of conduct defines as physical violence committed against a partner. The survey does not account for emotional abuse. 

Emotional abuse is not an offense defined in the code of conduct — it would have to fall under a different violation, such as sexual harassment by hostile environment in order for the university to discipline the person responsible. 

Relationship abuse can increase anxiety and depression in victims, Kimberly Castor, director of the Survivor Advocacy Program, said. They may struggle with substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“Relationship abuse is about power and control,” she said. “The perpetrator tends to attempt to gain control over their partner causing the partner to live in fear and isolation.”

Castor said victims of abuse may struggle to find help because their abusers isolate them or make them fear for their safety. They may not realize they are being abused or may have emotional ties to their abuser.

In particular, college students may hesitate to report their abuse because they fear that if their families find out, they will remove them from school, she said. College students may also have less contact with family and other support structures because they're away from home.

Castor said because emotional abuse doesn’t always fall under criminal law and might not fall under the code of conduct, victims of emotional abuse might not be able to pursue criminal charges or disciplinary action against their abuser.

“It does not, however, limit access to support resources and advocacy services,” she said in an email. “They are still able to seek support from any or all of the campus resources.”

The Survivor Advocacy Program and Campus Psychological Services both provide confidential care for victims of abuse, Castor said. Staff of both programs aren’t required to report crimes or misconduct to police or the University’s Equity and Civil Rights Compliance office.

The Equity and Civil Rights Compliance office can investigate violations of university policy, Castor said. During the investigation, the office can offer interim solutions, such as a no-contact directive.

Campus Care provides trauma-informed medical care, Castor said.

Because Ohio law has no legal definition for dating violence or abuse, Athens Police Chief Tom Pyle said his department deals with specific actions related to abuse that do meet the definitions of crimes such as menacing, assault and sexual assault.

Sometimes abuse doesn’t meet the definition of any crime, though, which limits what the police can do.

“When it doesn’t constitute a crime, it stops right there,” OU Police Lt. Tim Ryan said. “The university and the Title IX office (can help), but that wouldn’t be us.”

Ryan said victims of abuse should still contact law enforcement if there was any question whether the abuse met the criteria of a crime.

“We can talk through what we can do and can’t,” he said.

Athens County Sheriff Rodney Smith said regardless of whether relationship abuse meets the definition of a crime, police can provide victims with certain resources. The sheriff’s office and APD both employ victim advocates.

Departments can also serve civil protection orders to those accused of sex-related crimes or menacing by stalking. The orders prevent those individuals from having contact with victims. For someone to obtain a protection order against someone stalking them, Smith said there has to be more than one incident of threatening behavior from the perpetrator.

Even if deputies can’t arrest someone because of the incident, reporting it to the office creates a paper trail that could allow the victim to obtain a protection order in the future, he said.

Deputies can also warn the abuser if the victim finds their behavior threatening, he said.

“It may not meet the criteria of breaking the law at that point,” he said. “But to me, proactive law enforcement is you get involved before ... someone does break the law.”


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